Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Category: Book info (Page 1 of 2)

Character Creation Sheets

Character Creation sheets run the gamut from “Name Height Weight Hair Color” to “At what age did your character first drink a soda?”

I’m divided on this myself. Usually when I come up with an idea for a book, I usually can flesh the idea for the book out in 5 minutes, flowchart it, plan it, and have my synopsis created within a day. And start writing it the next. Hence my oft-repeated “It should only take you a month to write an average novel”.

I’ve just never done Character sheets ever. I got started a little on them, but not in depth.

But the other day  I wrote about the Dramatica theory of characters, so I made up character sheets to go in my notebook. Pretty much it’s the standard “Height weight M/F (circle one)”, BUT…

I added in the eight Dramatica characters.  All you have to do is put a checkmark in the space, or write a one word note about how they are that character type.

THEN I added Michael Hauge’s bit. In his book on “Writing Screenplays that sell”, he talked about inner motivation and outer motivation. So I added that, and may revise my sheets to have more stuff in them.

Here’s how the sheets look – you can copy this and paste it into the character profiles in Scrivener.

Name ______________________   M/F (Circle One)

Height______ Weight______ Age______

High School______  College______

Inner Motivation__________________________________________

Outer Motivation__________________________________________

Protagonist ______  Antagonist______ Reflection ______

Personality Type__________________________________________

Character Conflict__________________________________________

Start of Story Situation______________________________________

Changed by Outcome________________________________________

That’s about all I have in it! I don’t get into the “Favorite book in third grade” thing, because it’s like a movie writer once said, you’ve got them in a dilemma, they’ve got conflict and you can’t see the way out of it, and now you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to put in there that they like crunchy peanut butter.

But what I’ve got above really is enough for you to get a feel for your character.

The funny thing is, once I was done with the sheets, I filled out a few, and I saw  that I’d actually neglected to put some of this into my first novel! So I could see right away the value of at least minimal character sheets.

I may update this sheet in the future!

Cotagonist______  Sidekick______ Guardian ______ Skeptic______


Thoughts on “the Island”

Okay, I wrote “The Island” in one night.


I literally wrote out a basic logline during a break in the day, wrote out a list of how everyone dies, and that was it. Then after all my nightly stuff, I opened Scrivener and began writing.

4200 words later, I was done. I couldn’t tell that story in just 1,500 words. I couldn’t give any back story, or give you an eye into the social structure of the Island, or give you developed characters in a 1,500 word story.

It required me to go to bed 15 minutes later, to be able to finish the story. And the next day I dragged at work, because that was some seriously intense writing.

What was I trying to portray in the story? I wanted to show how absolute chaos ensues when people panic. I wanted to show how a single man can completely change the way people think with a few comments.

Ernie Lee held a great deal of power over the community. The storekeeper Cary (yes, I know Squirrel Island doesn’t have stores, but I decided to make this story on a different Island!) had to divert a considerable amount of energy into watching Ernie the entire time, to keep Ernie from stealing something, or to distract Cary into letting him take something on credit he’d probably never pay.

We all know that person.

Ernie also had a single problem – he was a sociopath. He simply didn’t know right from wrong. Well, more accurately, Ernie knew right from wrong – he just couldn’t understand those concepts as they were applied to him. His responses if asked would be, a literal, “I don’t know what you mean.” So when they spotted a massive explosion that turned out to be a car crashing into a transformer and exploding, Ernie of course honestly thought it was an atomic bomb. And his words scared everyone, because when Ernie Lee states he’s going to survive, the very way that Carey was watching his store now becomes how everyone else watched their life. Ernie’s going to kill me, and if he’s going to do it, everyone else will too. It’s actually only four of them.

I borrowed one man from The Birds and from Jaws for my story – Missing Guy. In Jaws, it was Ben Gardner. These people never lived. They were dead from the moment the story was written. Who killed Missing Guy? Ernie. He beat the guy to death with the shovel. Darian only kills two men in the story. But again, that was part of Ernie’s plan – get them all to kill each other, and Ernie would just opportunistically take what was left.

The Island was originally titled “Squirrel Island”, but of course, I had to use artistic license, by putting a general store on it, and cars and trucks. And there are no permanent residents of Squirrel Island. In my story, there’s less than a dozen permanent residents.

Almost all of them are French. That’s a little known thing in some parts of Maine – There’s been a culture clash between the French and the Anglo’s for over a century. In most of Maine, it’s not so noticeable. It still can be found in some areas, like Lisbon Falls and Durham.

Where the French settle in, it’s usually in small communities. So I decided to make The Island one of those places. And because of its nature (a place where only a few people live every year), all of them are French except for one Anglo – who’s dead before the story even starts (Mike Johnson).

The antagonism between Ruthie Johnson and Ernie Lee is one of the established resident versus the outsider. Brooke was a outsider moved in like Ruthie, but because she was French, she was accepted, whereas Ruthie was not. Ruthie’s speech was designed to show them that. Probably none of the residents had ever realized that Ruthie was an outsider still, even though she lived on the Island longer than Brooke.

However, the only real antagonism Ruthie had was from Ernie. Carey’s reaction shows that the Islanders didn’t believe Ruthie killed her husband – but in New England once a rumor gets going, it gets a life of its own.

One of my goals was to give you an antagonist so nasty, you HAD to hate him. This is something I think authors have been getting away from, and it leaves the reader unsatisfied. Your villain is a villain because he’s too smart. Or he had a facial disfiguration as a boy, and so that’s why he became a body builder and a serial killer. Seriously, you don’t have to explain villains! You don’t have to justify them! Why is he a villain? Because he’s evil! I’ve found ample evidence in over 50 years of personal experience some people are just wholly given over to evil, and don’t care. Are they all sociopaths? No. The worst evil is done by people who know good from bad, understand how it applies to them, and have just made the conscience decision to go ahead and do wrong. Sometimes villains are villains because they’re evil.

Ernie murders Ruthie because he’s killing the outsiders, and purging his community. It’s satisfying to him. And he taunts her as she drowns by telling her that he knew all along she didn’t kill Mike, Ernie killed him years before.

In that one act, the reader now can’t wait to see Ernie die. Ernie killed a man, then taunts his widow for years by diverting blame? Oh, he’s got to die! Readers love to see despicable characters get their come-uppance.

Stephen Gagnon was originally named Elliot, and Brooke was originally named Elena. But that gave me three people in a short story who’s names start with “E”, and you can’t have that.

I debated the twist ending quite a bit. I wanted to write the story strong enough, so that you had to think it was a nuclear bomb, it really was World War III. But I couldn’t talk about an explosion that lasted minutes, the continuing roar, a blast of wind, stuff banged around on the Island, and then turn it into a car crash! In one of my novels I give you a blow by blow description of an atomic bomb explosion, and what it would be like to be within a mile or two of it. So that’s something I’ve done.

I could easily turn this into a movie script – the pacing is just right for it. But I’d be annoying and insist that all the actors have genuine Maine Accents.

I think the hardest part for me was this – whether to leave it like an “On the Beach” ending, or like it was. If you read it again, but stop at Brooke and Stephen in the police station after Ernie has been killed, the story has a chilling feel to it. I didn’t know if that’s how I wanted to end it or not? But for me the twist ending was the most satisfying.

The “Vomit” Draft

There’s a phrase among screenwriters – I think Jeannie Bowerman came up with it. Novelists have adopted it as well.
The “Vomit” draft.

What in the world?

The concept is that in my first draft – whether novel or screenwriting – I’m not going to worry about rules, structure, correct format, etc.

The entire idea of your first draft is to vomit words on the white space on your screen in Scrivener or in Final Draft.

Then later, during the edit process, you can worry about Dave Trottier standing behind you with a large wooden ruler, saying “The correct formatting for a scene without sound is MOS.”


Is this scene a sequel to the previous scene?

I don’t care.

Does this scene promise something I’ve got to deliver on later?

I don’t care.

I’ll care about all that in the first re-write. For now… I’m getting this scene down before I lose it.

Carpenter watched through the binoculars. The quads had stopped, and the men dismounted. The man working the radio equipment was so close, it looked like they could just reach out and touch him. He looked annoyed, fiddling with earphones. Carpenter slowly moved his binoculars, and saw one of the troopers looking intently down. The trooper motioned to another trooper, who walked casually over to him. The first one said something, and the body of the second one stiffened a little.
“Are they looking?” McKinney whispered. Carpenter paused.
“They’re looking.” He said finally. There was no mistaking the actions Of the UN troops. They were actively looking. Two or three were speaking on radios while scanning with binoculars. McKinney was nervous as he watched through his own as one seemed to stare right at him.
“What do we do?” McKinney asked.
Carpenter was silent. “That depends on if they go away or not.” he answered grimly. “If not, then we fight. We take out as many as we can, and then the rest of you start the retreat to the boats. Load the boats, and head towards Greenland. I’ll cover the retreat while you get everyone to safety. If they go away, that was our close call. We pack up and move today. It was time to move, anyway.”
“You’re gonna need help if it turns to shooting.” McKinney said. Carpenter shook his head.
“We’ve already discussed this. Your job is important. You have to get everyone to safety.” McKinney nodded, and pushed the radio earpiece back in his ear. Carpenter caught his arm.
“If I don’t make it… Be sure to tell Alison I love her.” He said. There was deadly seriousness in his eyes. McKinney nodded.
They watched. One of the soldiers was wandering down the trail. His eyes were down, as if he was following the trail. He stopped, staring at something. Then he turned and motioned to one of the watching Sergeants. The Commanding Officer strode over to him, as the soldier pointed at something. His hand swept back and forth. The Commanding Officer nodded.
“Show time.” Carpenter said grimly. He placed his eye to the scope of his rifle as the soldiers began walking down the trail. McKinney took the safety off his rifle, and moved slowly through the bush in slow, random movements as they’d practiced. He headed towards the shooting spot they’d practiced from.

See? I worried about who (first word!) what (second word) where (established in previous action snippet), and if there’s any other W words, I tossed them over my shoulder as I and Carpenter crawled through the undergrowth to approach the men on the quad!
This is writing. Get your vomit draft down. On the re-write you can get this all formatted nicely. You can make sure this snippet is the sequel to the previous snippet, if this scene promises something (oh, boy it does!) and if it delivers on previous promises (oh, yes… it does).


Get the raw words on paper. I tend to call my first draft a “Raw draft”, not a “first draft”. Edit later! You’ve got 1667 words to write today!

Writers… write

I bet the average book reader wonders if authors sit around and pontificate upon the motives and back stories of their characters. The answer is, yes… they do.

To make someone like Carpenter believable, he’s got to have back story. Much of the back story of your character never makes it to the books.

Like, Carpenter tried playing chess once and got completely wiped out by someone who wasn’t very literate, and described himself as a Texas redneck. And the humiliation of being beaten so badly made Carpenter never want to play chess again.

That will probably never make it to the books.

And of course, every one of my characters in some point in their lives has had the flu. Why? Almost everyone gets the flu. I’ve only met one or two people who can say they’ve never been sick.

But of course, there’s absolutely no reason to put that in the books. I suppose I could work that in, but who would care?

Recently I read some advice that I should have 5 writer friends. That would be a miracle, because I seem to have had a hundred acquaintances in my life, but precious few friends. The only real friends I have are of course my wife, and a guy I used to work with.

Sinus headaches are terrible. I’m sitting here rambling. It reminds me of the most horrible book I ever read in my life in school, Catcher in the Rye, where the hero character rambles and digresses for 400 pages.

Horrible book. Hated every word of it.

School made me read 1984. I read it, and tore out every page, one by one, and burned it. When they asked me where my book was, I told him, “I burned it. Page by page.” The teacher made me write that out as a book report, and I got an A on the class.

What I need right now is sinus meds.



I haven’t officially made a study of archetypes. What this is, is – heros. Your hero character. Let’s analyze some.

Jack Ryan (Clancy) – unwilling hero. Pushed into it when someone tries to kidnap the Princess of Wales in front of him. He then ends up getting into the CIA… and the world finds itself with a man who finds himself having to take an active role in all kinds of international drama.

The Man with No Name (Grimaldi/spaghetti westerns) – Can’t help but get involved. Tecnically, The Man with No Name has a name – it’s Joe Banco, also known as Blondie. He tends to try to keep to himself, but he cannot stand to see the strong bully the weak.

Frodo Baggins – tragic hero. He’s going to do what’s right, no matter what.

Luke Skywalker – wide eyed innocent kid who wants to do something, be something – and he finds himself on the other side, fighting with the Rebellion. He transforms from nerdy kid, to beaten skeptic, to Jedi Warrior.

Matthew Carpenter – (my character) the shorter Clint Eastwood. Former law enforcement, formerly a Karate competitor. Now just cold and trying to make it through the day, not reflecting on how lonely his life is. His assumption is, nobody else is going to do something, so… do something.

Edward Scissorhands – the outsider. He knows he’s a toy, but he wants to love. A tragic character, he loves, and knows he will have to love from afar.

Dirty Harry Callahan – Bitterness personified. He seems to be the only person in the world concerned with the rights of the victims. And his frustration levels with those who prey on the weak and those who keep telling him he can’t do this and that are roughly the same.

So, there’s a group of different heros. The right hero drives a story. I mean, Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey. Both of them react precisely the same – someone breaks the law, someone gets shot. But the essentail difference between Kersey and Dirty Harry drive the story. Both movies came out around the same time, both spawned franchises, both were hugely successful

you could go an entire career writing essentially the same story, and putting a different hero in it. It drives the story.

“Where do you get your characters?”

Years ago, I came up with a concept for a novel where a group of people wake up, and find most of civilization just… gone. You go to bed, everyone’s there, you wake up, most of the people are just… well… dead.

Then I was telling someone about a movie I saw years later, and he dismissed it by saying, “Yeah, well, that’s because 28 Days Later essentially ripped off your book idea.”

Of course, I couldn’t think of what to say about that.

Plots are really simple. “What if…?” And then building them is well, easy.

Characters, though, are essentially your answer.

If I take “The Last Man Alive” and replace Vincent Price’s Character with someone who essentially is a Clint Eastwood type, you suddenly get a different movie. That’s exactly how they created the “Omega Man”, was by taking “The Last Man Alive” and putting Charlton Heston in it. I guess Charlton went through a phase in the 60’s and Seventies where he suddenly was a Charles Bronson-Clint Eastwood type.

Your Characters become essentially the tool box you use. Hero needs impact character, but doesn’t know it. There’s sidekick, who manages to take the pressure off of Hero. Impact Character needs Nero, and you wonder how impact character made it through life previously. Antagonist is trying to ruin everything.

So… where do I get my characters? I write. They do something. That something often defines who they are for me, until more actions and more dialogue pops up.

I don’t put my friends into novels. I don’t put my co-workers into novels. One person who I see at work regularly, I borrowed his description for one character – but not his personality. I just needed something I could hang a hat on that character, and his hair ended up being it.

Nobody in my family ends up in my stories. I want to be able to read my stories and enjoy them, so… nobody in my family will ever be a character.

I just sit down, put fingers on keys, and I write a name. “Sarah”. Okay. “Sarah was reading a novel…”

Believe it or not, I see her now. She’s someone who’s mother was overly domineering, and so Sarah just left home after high school, got a job as a dog groomer at a pet store, and… she sits around at night, watching old classic movies. Her best friend taunts her by asking, “Is anyone in that movie even alive anymore?”

That’s how I create my characters. It’s a visceral, gut feeling. The hero of my stories I created one day, while trying to visualize him driving through traffic. The city I live in has a bizarre phenomenon I’ve never seen anywhere else – people here drive under the speed limit. It’s nothing at all for these people to just take up both lanes, and drive at 30 miles an hour in a 45 zone. And it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t get around them.

So, my hero developed over a character that would drive at precisely 5 miles an hour over the speed limit. Enough to show he originated in New England, but precisely under control no more, no less than 5 miles an hour over the posted limit.

And I stuck him behind a car driving at precisely 5 miles an hour under the speed limit.

I saw my hero character right away. Fingers tapping at the steering wheel, snorting through his nose (did you know the ancient Hebrew word for Anger is also the same word for nose?). He needs to drive at precisely the right speed, and he’s being frustrated in that.

My impact character… it took me a little bit to see her. Essentially, I think I had her pegged by her questioning not only herself, but the Hero in one scene. “Are you sure we can do this?”

But it was the scene where you are introduced to her that defined her. I wrote a scene of her in the Realty office, where she’s struggling to figure out why her sales leads are always disappearing. And there’s a too-loud woman in the same office, who drives a Jaguar the Realty firm bought her, and she wears fur coats inside, just to show she’s made a lot of money.

The reader grasps it right away – Miss High Sales has been stealing Impact Character’s sales leads and made herself rich doing it. So, the impact character later on quite simply takes her address book home with her, and her portfolio. And suddenly she makes a million dollars in real estate sales in one three-week period.

I just was resolved, this woman was going to achieve every idle dream she’d had before the main part of the novel kicked in.

When you’ve got a 10-volume novel series, essentially you’re playing with the same characters. Every now and then, take one out, put a new one in. It changes up the mix, and essentially, the characters change as well. So, give them their needs in one book, deprive them in another.

So, that’s how I get my characters.

I Hate My Book

Two of my books I was hampered with by the face that book Number Two was so good.

Book three I hated, until about 90% done with it. suddenly, I had it in a place where I finally didn’t hate it any more.

The problem I guess is something everyone goes through when you write a book, and it’s really, really good. I had drama, death, pain, tears,… I mean, book two had it ALL. Even sheer terror and excitement.

When you hate your book, you have two choices – trash it and start over, or keep plugging until you like it.

I chose with book three to keep going. There was so much CONFLICT. I’m sure that makes for a tense book.

So, I had to really drag the reader through the mud for most of the book, before picking them up again.

Hopefully, it worked.

If you’re a writer, how do you get through it? If you feel like your book is simply not what you wanted, make snapshots with Scrivener, and start over. If you feel like it’s going in the wrong direction, then evaluate – can I save this? Or should I just delete, and start over again?

Don’t be afraid to simply throw away what’s not working. But save it in a backup! Because you may suddenly figure out in two years how to do it!

Locations For My novel

When I was writing my first novel, I had to pick a location. I was tempted to place it in Ontario. But I realized quickly, looking at a map (which is how Carpenter, the lead character would have done it) that the exit route determines the location. I needed to be able to leapfrog medium size boats from Canada to Baffin Island to Greenland to Iceland to Europe, and then bounce down to the English Channel, to Spain, into the Med, then finally into the Middle East.

So, that ruled out Northern Ontario. That would have added a near-impossible route out through the Hudson Bay. I mean, my characters are making that trip, but when you look at how much farther north they’re going…

So, my people’s end up settling in an area in Northern Quebec. It’s roughly level with Labrador, and it’s called Nunavik. It’s so sparsely populated that Canadians actually confuse it with Nunevut, on the west coast.

This meant pouring over Google Earth, zooming in as best as I could. I actually found a spot (and I marked down the long-lat somewhere, but can’t find where!) they would go. The area’s ideal, from aerial photography. The tree cover is so dense that you could be dancing in all flourescent colors waving flags, and a helicopter circling above wouldn’t see you. There’s streams and small lakes circling it. If you look at Nunevik, you’ll spot a heart shaped lake about 50 miles south of it. Lake Maurice is to the southwest, about another 50-75 miles.

Now, what Carpenter would have done is look at the terrain once he got to the location, and chosen a fairly flat location with a higher ridge to the south, and hills to the North, allowing them something to circle around in case of pursuit. That seems to describe every 30 feet in Nunevik.

If you’re a survivorman fan, be aware that every place Les Stroud was in the Boreal Forest was far to the south. Apparently, where I’m sending my people, there’s no surviving except on the coast.

Feel free to visit. Then again, you can simply go sit in the woods somewhere more accessible, and get the same feeling. Bring hot dogs.

Deleted Scene 2

Check last Thursday for the first half of this… This was a scene I couldn’t fit into my story. What I didn’t tell you last week, this is raw. It’s not even first draft, but actually what left my fingers without any polish or tightening.


Tariq inched the van forward. It was 8:07, and traffic was even more gridlocked than usual in Los Angeles. He briefly wondered if he’d made a mistake. If he got out of the van now and started running, he might make it. Might.

Or the police might find the device, and spread the warning. That would risk the entire event. Tariq knew now that to pull this off, his life was probably forfeit, He decided that this was the way it was going to be.

Tariq pulled onto South San Pedro Street, thumbs thumping the steering wheel in frustration. He was stuck behind a bus, and there was a family in the passing lane in a beat up car…just poking along. He was frustrated. He wanted to get closer to the city center before time ran out!

And then he saw the police car.

Officer Lightspeed watched the van weave. The driver kept looking back in the rearview mirror. That was normal, but Lightspeed’s every instinct, honed from years of street patrol in Los Angeles told him something was wrong. Very wrong. He reached up and flipped the switch, his lights beginning to rotate.

Tariq glanced back at the device. I’ve failed. He thought. He was still a mile out from the very heart of Los Angeles. Well, it will have to do. He thought.

The police officer tapped at the window, and Tariq rolled it down. “license and registration.” He said. Tariq pulled his wallet out. “Yes, of course.” he smiled. He saw the countdown on the device. 8:28…. There was no getting away now. Tariq was prepared to meet his destiny. He opened the glove box, papers spilling everywhere. Tariq smiled at the Police officer. He pulled the papers off the seat, and leafed through them. He handed the registration to the police officer.

“Where were you going?” The policeman wanted to know. Tariq glanced at the mirror. 8:29.

“Paradise, my friend.”

“I’m sorry?” The policeman looked very suspicious. 8:29:30

“To paradise, my friend. Allah awaits me.”

“What are you talking about?


“Allah Akhbar….”

The police officer stepped back, drawing his weapon. Something is wrong…. He thought. Just then, Tariq raised his hands, a wide smile on his face…

…and the van exploded. The flash reached the officer, and he had a brief moment to think, “Jesus….” The officer felt the blast hammer him…..

The blast happened too fast. Anyone nearby had no time to react. The closest automobiles were turned into dust, and all buildings for two hundred yards were turned to ash. For the next three hundred yards, massive chunks were demolished from most buildings, the debris scattering. The pressure wave had begun.

Gilliard looked down at his cell phone to press the “2” key, the speed dial for his wife. He was looking up as the flash hit his eyes. “Oh, my Lord!” He was dazzled, but he had missed the flash by a critical second. He swerved the SUV, hitting another car and turning off his ignition. He popped the door open. “Get out of your cars! GET DOWN!!!!” He shouted. People panicked, but many obeyed him. They crawled up against a building, and hugged the pavement. “open your mouths, so the explosion doesn’t blow out your ears!” He shouted.

The sound hit them, powerful and loud. Gilliard was too busy praying. “Oh, Lord God, save my wife…” the pressure wave was intense. It felt like he was being crushed for a second. Then pain hit him as heat flowed over him, and they heard the crunching sound as debris began impacting the cars on the street. Shattering glass was the loudest noise, as the windows in the building above them shattered. Glass pieces began raining down around them….

The Inner Circle

Where did I get the numbers for the inner circle?

I’d already postulated that Controller and Lynch would be known more by their job designations. That’s from Three Days of the Condor, where a single CIA operative who served as contact with street operatives was known as Control.

Incidentally, that designation actually originally belonged to a man who monitored everything going on in the strangest TV series ever made, “The Prisoner.” Control was a bald man with glasses who ran the Village from the control room, clutching only a telephone. When Three Days of the Condor was written, they obviously borrowed the concept.

Mad Max also borrowed from The Prisoner. Australia became a form of the Village, except those living there were beginning to suffer from Madness. And the striped shirt thugs of The Prisoner became the police of Mad Max. The operator of their system was a scarred, bald man known as Control.

So, I know that the most effective organizations are run with one man at the top, and a group of three working for him.

The Organization would be run this way as well. Number One would run things, but I never gave him a name. The quorum beneath him, the Inner Circle, would be First, Second, Third. The other half would be Four, Five, Six.

You see the rank structure now. Obviously First has slightly more power and influence than Fourth.

So how did I come up with all this? I don’t know. I just started typing and it came out. I named one man Six automatically, when Controller had to call someone about events he was unsure of. He wasn’t happy with Six’s answers, and he had to call…


One? One would be in control. So… call…


That’s how I came up with the Inner circle. Later on, I was able to make the mental connections you see above.

Sometimes Inspiration is accidental. well, with me, most of the time, i’m typing something, and it just comes out. When Lynch met someone, who would be a controller for the organization, I came up with the name Organization – because to them, there is only one Organization!

So someone would be Lynch’s Controller. What do I call him? Controller.

Simple. Now that’s several less names I need to come up with. And all the connections you just read about all came later!

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